CHICAGO — When a customer slips and falls on a Laundromat’s damp floor, or a person is assaulted in the store’s dimly lit parking lot after dark, the business could be liable for any injury or damage caused.
But many liability claims can be easily prevented by applying common sense and having a “safety first” mindset.
To help you limit your exposure to such claims, American Coin-Op polled representatives from some of the industry’s major insurance providers about managing the greatest areas of risk in and around the average vended laundry.
Q: What precautions should a store owner take in the following areas to help prevent accidents before they happen?
OUTDOOR AREAS AND PARKING LOTS
Ann Hawkins, vice president, Underwriting & Sales, NIE, St. Louis: Besides lighting in the parking lot, potholes, cracks, pitting, no parking lines, etc. can also be common liability hazards. Again, if these are not your responsibility, inform the landlord because you can be sued regardless of ownership. And it is always best to notify the landlord in writing so you have something to fall back on if the landlord doesn’t take care of it and something happens.
Larry Larsen, agent for Crusader Insurance Co., Woodland Hills, Calif.: An often overlooked area of liability claims is outdoor areas and parking lots. You might think that the landlord has the responsibility to maintain the outside of your store; consider it your responsibility to inform the landlord of any unusual or dangerous condition in or near your Laundromat. Send a certified letter, return receipt requested, to your landlord if you have uneven sidewalks, potholes in the parking lots, improperly operating doors or inadequately lighted exteriors.
Adam Weber, president, Irving Weber Associates (IWA), Smithtown, N.Y.: The outside of the location should be well-lit at all times, even when the operation is closed. It is a good idea to keep shrubbery at a minimum, to allow customers to be visible as they enter the Laundromat or return to their vehicles, often carrying large bins with clothing. Having limited signs in the windows will also allow for good visibility of the parking areas, which can deter certain crimes and allow employees to witness any accidents that may occur as customers move back and forth to their vehicles.
Additionally, sidewalks and asphalt should be crack- and pothole-free as well as have the proper markings to show level transitions. Bumper stops should be used to help avoid the out-of-control or accidental entry of a vehicle into the store.
Parking spaces should be large enough to allow customers to move clothing bins or bags in and out of their vehicles safely. Signs should be posted to remind customers to lock their vehicles when unattended.
In inclement weather, such as snow, parking areas and walkways must be kept clear with salt being laid down as needed to avoid icing.
FLOORS AND CARPETING
Larsen: Non-slip floors are almost a necessity due to the potential of water on the floor. Carpet is not considered a great option for flooring in a Laundromat. Replace with a more appropriate floor covering when your carpet wears out.
Weber: Floors and carpeting should be well-maintained and checked often for buckling, rips, worn or frayed areas as well as upturned edges, which can cause a trip or fall.
Hawkins: Try to keep floors dry at all times. Floor tiles should be replaced when they become cracked, missing, lifting or damaged in any way. Sometimes the floor in a Laundromat will slant toward a drain, which is a slip hazard. And the drain itself should have a painted marking around it so customers notice it. Most Laundromats are not carpeted but when they are, the carpet sometimes becomes wrinkled and presents a trip hazard. It may also start to fray in places and strings will become apparent, which are also hazardous.
Weber: All areas should generally be well-maintained, clean and well-marked as to the proper flow of pedestrian traffic.
Hawkins: The front entrance can be a common place for people to trip and fall. If the threshold is chipped or broken, have it repaired as soon as possible. Many Laundromat owners keep mats or rugs at the front entrance, either inside, outside or both. Don’t use throw rugs because they bunch up and become a slip hazard. Mats can become broken around the edges and should be replaced when this happens. Also, don’t use open-weave mats because a heel can become caught in the open space and cause a fall.
Another thing to watch for is sharp edges on the equipment. Rubber gaskets sometimes come off dryer doors, and other sharp pieces of metal can protrude from equipment, so keep watch for this as well.
Q: There are times when it may not be in the best interest of a small business to file a claim. What factors should a store owner take into account before making the decision to file?
Larsen: First, your insurance policy may contain a provision that obligates you to report any claim. You risk a denial of coverage if you try to cover up a claim. Second, your insurance agent is required to report to the insurer any notice of a claim. So don’t ask your agent to cover up a claim. Third, although it might mean higher premiums, the safest way to handle a claim is to properly report it. Learn to distinguish between a claim and a customer service consideration, as the latter does not need to be reported.
Weber: There are many factors that should be considered when deciding to file an insurance claim, such as the business owner’s claims history, his or her deductible, and the amount of harm the business suffers during the event:
- The claim may not exceed the policy deductible. Deductibles should be set based on what the policyholder can manage. Keep in mind, the lower the deductible, the larger the premium, and vice versa.
- Filing a claim can cause premiums to increase. Although not always the case, premiums can increase due to claims, even if the policyholder later determines that the claim is not worth pursuing.
- Claim history can follow a business owner for up to seven years, even if he or she switches providers.
- Some claims, particularly those that involve water damage, can cause providers to drop policyholders. Water damage can involve mold, which is expensive to repair and can recur.
Filing a business insurance claim can be an arduous process, and there can be expenses involved in documenting the damage, its cause and its effects on the company's finances. These should all be taken into consideration when deciding if/when a claim should be filed.
Hawkins: Always file an incident report. It is better for your insurance company to know about something and plan for it than to be surprised with a lawsuit in two years. Most insurance companies would frown upon the insured who knows about an incident and doesn’t report it promptly.
In our conclusion on Monday: Benefits of a surveillance system, the mechanics of filing a claim, and common claims mistakes to avoid
Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE.